Sugar Ray Hall: When considering Billy Baron’s legacy, don’t forget the past

By Nick Veronica

Billy Baron is the best thing to happen to Canisius basketball in a long, long time. But determining his place in Canisius lore is strictly a matter of opinion.

Baron is perhaps the best player the Griffs have had since Sugar Ray Hall, the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,226 points) who graduated in 1985. You could argue that Baron belongs on the short list of Canisius’ all-time greats, or make a case that he barely cracks the top 15.

I asked Hall for his thoughts on the matter before the conference tournament began last weekend, and for his thoughts on Baron’s future.

“We haven’t had this much excitement about a Canisius team or a player in years. I really respect what the guy is doing,” Hall said. “I think he’s a hell of a player. He has all the tools that are necessary to go to the next level. I feel good about it. I’m really happy to see they finally got somebody over there to really challenge what I did when I was there. I’m totally excited about it, I have nothing but good feelings for him.”

Hall may love what the kid has done, but in determining Baron’s legacy, he doesn’t want people to forget their history.

“One thing he has in his favor is that he’s playing right now. Everything that people remember is going to be current. A lot of folks forget what has happened in the past,” Hall said.

“So if he’s the greatest in 28 years, or if you want to say, ‘hey, he’s better than Ray Hall, he’s better than Larry Fogle,’ once again that is someone’s opinion. Obviously everybody is going to have their opinion.”

canisiushistoricalcomparisonWhile times have been tough recently, Canisius basketball has a rich history. At the right is a chart of Griff standouts, one per decade, provided for the sake of comparison. But even that list isn’t complete with all of Canisius’ former stars.

Here’s what we know about Baron:

In just two seasons, he has vaulted up to 11th on Canisius’ all-time scoring list and is within striking distance of the top 10.

With 19 points and seven assists in the postseason, he can become just the second player in school history with 1,400 points, 350 assists and 300 rebounds (Craig Wise is the other).

If Baron ever appears in an NBA game, he will be just the 12th Griff to play in the NBA or ABA and the first since Mike Smrek retired in 1992.

Of course, none of that helps you definitively say whether Baron is the best or the fourth-best or the 15th-best player Canisius has ever had. But if you’d like to start at the top of that list and work your way down, Hall made that easy for you.

“I tell people, I’m the all-time leading scorer at Canisius, but I’m no idiot. I’m never gonna say that I was better than Larry Fogle,” Hall said. “Larry Fogle played two years at Canisius … and that’s when Canisius was really on the map. That’s when Canisius was big time. This guy did it when it was big time. People forget about Larry Fogle because of what happened off the court*. That’s off the court. What he did on the court is what you should judge a person on. If you look at his numbers and what he achieved in the small amount of time he was there, you have to consider that guy is one of the best players, if not the best player.”

Again, you are free to rank Baron wherever you’d like in your head. Hall just asks that you keep in mind what former players have done, too.

“I’m really, really happy for that young man and as long as he keeps that Canisius name going, he keeps everything that is about history [going],” Hall said. “All of the folks that you talked about … those are people you have to consider when you talk about is this the greatest player that’s ever been there?”

Hall said he went to one game this year (an 88-81 home loss to Quinnipiac where Baron had 31 points) and watched many more on television. He has never met Baron, but the 23-year-old has won his respect.

“If you talk to Billy, give him my best,” Hall said. “You can certainly let him know that I respect him, I certainly appreciate what he has done for Canisius in the two years he’s been there. He brought a dead animal back to life and I certainly, certainly enjoyed that.”

*Canisius was put on probation during the Fogle era for reportedly giving improper benefits. Fogle began his career at Southwestern Louisiana and only came to Canisius when SW Louisiana had its basketball program suspended from 1973-75 for what the Associated Press called “a record 118 violations, many of them involving gifts of money and clothing to recruits and players.” Fogle is the most prolific Canisius athlete not in school’s hall of fame.


9 thoughts on “Sugar Ray Hall: When considering Billy Baron’s legacy, don’t forget the past

  1. Need to graduate in order to get into Griffs hall of fame… Fogle gets my vote as greatest Griff of the last 40 years. Add Baron, Ray, Smrek and Michael Meeks and you have a nice starting five. Add Charley Jordan, Kenny Kee, Ron Peeks, Phil Seymore, Craig Prosser, Phil Seymore, Brian Dux, Wise, Barley and Darren Fenn to your bench and there’s your all time Griffs team of the last 40 yrs.

  2. Canisius was “big time” in 1974-75?! News to me. Their glory years were in the 1950’s. They were a mediocrity in the 1970’s.

    • Umm, yeah. Canisius beat Providence, Florida St, Villanova and Syracuse’s Final Four team that season, among others. Started 4-0 and were receiving top 20 votes. Do your homework.

      The Little Three were a part of “big time” college basketball for years. Then probation hit Canisius and super conferences formed changing the landscpae of college hoops.

      • Speaking of “umm, yeah”. Well, I admit that the “Larry Fogle era” is before my time, but I looked up those years:

        They don’t look very impressive to me. 4-0 and a couple of top 20 votes? Not too big of a deal. Niagara has had some top 20 votes over the years here and there, too. I don’t mean to diminish Fogle, but to suggest that Canisius was “big time” in that era seems to be a real stretch to me. NU and St. Bonaventure were the class of the Little 3 in that era, from what i can tell….. But fee; free to be offended by my take if you wish. I just call it as I see it…..

      • Not offended, I just don’t lose arguments to bar stool no-nothings…I saw the games and lived in the era, saw I call it as I actually saw it. Here is Sports Illustrated Dec 2, 1974 preview of the of the east (find many Griff references in their “Vault.” Funny, Canisius went 3-0 that yr vs three of the teams mentioned (this is before the era of write ups for every D-1 team) – “THE EAST
        Over the past 10 seasons Providence has won 202 games and lost 71, the seventh-best major-college record in the country. During that span PC has gone to seven postseason tournaments. At last the Friars could be headed for a slump, but only a mild one. With Marvin Barnes and Kevin Stacom gone from last year’s team, the future lies with sophomore Guard Joe Hassett and freshmen frontcourters Bill Eason, Bruce Campbell and Bob Misevicius. Nine of the team’s first 11 games are at home and PC should extend its Civic Center win streak of 34 even while its youngsters mature. The Friars may win fewer than 20 games for the first time in five years, but that is about the worst that is apt to happen, particularly under the excellent coaching of Dave Gavitt.
        Another rough court for visitors is Manley Field House, where Syracuse University has compiled a 12-year 112-24 record, thanks to quality teams, foe-baiting fans and a unique raised hardwood floor. Now there is a less frightening down-to-earth Tartan surface, but an easy home schedule could lead to another prolonged Manley winning streak. On the road, things will be tougher for the Orange. Six-foot-nine Rudy Hackett, the only returning big man, needs help up front from 6’9″ sophomore Earnie Seibert for Syracuse to be invited to its fifth straight postseason tournament. That is asking a lot of a man who did not appear in a varsity game last year.
        A third notable arena, Tallahassee’s Tully Gym, sometimes warms up to 100� for Florida State home games. And the Seminoles have the speed to put on some heat of their own. Led by Forward Larry Warren, they should equal their last two 18-8 seasons. One team that will not match its 20-10 record of a year ago is Jacksonville. The Dolphins’ 6’9″ Center Shawn Leftwich and explosive Forward Henry Williams have been declared ineligible by the NCAA. Canisius’ most famous basketball alumnus, John McCarthy, returns to his alma mater as coach. If he can inculcate some teamwork, Mel Montgomery. Charley Jordan and leading major-college scorer (33.4) Larry Fogle might reward him with more than just a Little Three title.”

        Yeah, the Little Three was on the national basektball map. Big Time. And for many, many years. Times have changed. I recognize that.

  3. I didn’t insult you, like you insulted me. I am not a “no-nothing”. I am obviously much younger than you are, and I’ll give you that. But those schedules i posted show that Canisius did not have that much tougher of a schedule than they do now. They always play a few tough teams, and have beaten some on occasion. Your SI Vault article doesn’t amount to anything. The stats are the stats- they won a few games, lost a lot of games, and were largely inconsequential then, as they pretty much have been since the 1950’s, but for a few seasons in the 1990’s when John Beilein was here. To say Canisius was “big time” in the 1970’s is silly in my opinion, unless you consider “big time” differently than I do. Big time to me is actual consistent top 20 rankings, etc.

  4. PS- saying “do your homework”, and calling me a “no-nothing”, shows your lack of confidence in your own argument, as you feel the need to try to be condescending to me in attempt to feel superior. Canisius appears to have been a mediocrity with a scorer in the 1970’s. Yes, they may have beaten a few pretty darn good teams, but they still were just a bit over .500, and played teams like Gannon(?), Buff State(!), UB when UB was not much, and similar teams to who they play now (Siena, St. peter’s, etc.), so I can’t get too excited about that. If you want to do so, feel free. But the stats speak for themselves. A couple of nice wins doesn’t make for a “big time” situation.

    • You insulted Ray Hall, who voiced an opinion. Also it “wasn’t a couple of Top 20 votes,” they were on the cusp of the Top 20 a few weeks into the December polls.

      By big time, I mean they played and competed with big time competition yr in & yr out. Canisius (and The Little Three) was part of the national landscape and were known by hoops fans throughout the USA…. more so than they are with today’s fans around the country. There were about 230 D-1 schools at that time, not 350. Canisius consistently played NCAA & NIT teams, in an era when 16 teams qualified for the NCAA tourney. And these weren’t “2 for 1’s” or go to Syracuse for a one game payday (ala Canisius @ Syracuse/UNLV last yr, Notre Dame this yr). They alternated home & away with the likes of Syracuse for years. Yes, they played many of the same teams as today, but scholarship opportunities where much less leading to a greater competition for the talent. It was much less of a “haves and have nots” like it is today between BCS conferences and “mid majors.” Hell, Dick Vitale’s Detroit team that came into the Aud in December ’74 AND PLAYED “stall ball” to take away the Griffs running game had 3 future NBA players on it! Terry Tyler and John Long played about 1,000 NBA games each. The term “mid major” didn’t exist.

      The overflow talent that didn’t get D-1 scholarships went to D-3 and D-2 who produced their fair share of NBA players.

      I don’t know of a tv show today that would reference Billy Baron like Leave it to Beaver did when Wally was shooting baskets and said “look Beaver, Tom Stith” while imitating the Bona 60’s great….yeah, I know that’s Bona not Cansius, but they were equals in regard to name recoginition. Bona (I know, not Canisius) went to the 1970 Final Four. I know you know that cuz you mentioned above “you call it like you see it” and it’s easy to find such info in black & white. Unfortunately, there is a lot of gray area here that is best explained by those who observed the era.

      And that thrilling 100-99 (OT, I believe) win vs Buffalo St? That was against a great Buff St team (who showed well for a half at David Thompson – led NC State, the ’74 NCAA champs) which included former Canisius starting guard Mike Norwood who had transfered. UB’s Sam Pellom led the nation in rebounding that year and played with the Atlanta Hawks. Buff State grad Randy Smith was an all star with the Buffalo Braves at that time. Different times indeed!

      The Saturday night Aud double headers were already a thing of the past in the early/mid 70’s, but the Little Three were still a part of big time basketball. That would change soon, but Ray Hall was 100% correct in his assessment.

      Talk to a few older guys before being so absolute with your opinions of pre Super Conferences, pre ESPN college basketball. It was a great sport then and Canisius was a part of it.

      Sorry to have insulted you.

      • No intention to insult anyone- I think Ray was being self-deprecating as I think he played against solid competition. Maybe I am undervaluing the D2 and D3 competition as it’s certainly the case that more D1 teams give more D1 opportunities to players who would have been D2/3 previously. My father speaks fondly of the Little 3 glory years, and going to Aud double headers. My biggest q is why Canisius and NU could not have had a shot at a bigger conference in the ESPN era with their history and the city’s tv market size. But that ship has sailed . Cheers!

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